Can a director ooze movies? He can if he's Woody Allen. "He secretes movies like honey," claims Annie Hall co-writer Marshall Brickman. "It's an astonishing record," Brickman said of the fact that Allen's released a movie every year since 1977, when Annie Hall hit theaters. "I don't think anyone's come close to it."
Woody Allen 101
Annie Hall fits the model for most of Allen's films—both those that came before and those that would come after. According to film critic Tim Dirks, the movie
[…] capitalized on many of the ingredients that had been the content of his earlier films—the subjects of anti-Semitism, life, romantic angst, drugs and death, his obsessive love of New York, his dislike of California (mostly L.A.) fads and intellectual pomposity, his introspective neuroses and pessimism, his requisite jokes and psychosexual frustration about sex, numerous put-downs of his own appearance and personality, and distorted memories of his childhood. (Source)
That's one heck of a checklist, Shmooper. And Annie Hall? It's basically a primer on Woody Allen as a director. Its themes permeate Allen's entire body of work… a body that is, by directing standards, pretty obese.
You're So Funny I Could Ignore You for Hours
Like a lot of Allen's films, Annie Hall is also downright hilarious. So what's Allen's directing secret? First, it's hiring legitimately funny people. Allen said of his casting choices in a 2009 press junket:
"Your body knows. You may not be able to articulate it. You may laugh at them and get a certain amount of enjoyment, but when you go to sleep at night, and you wake up at three in the morning, and you're alone in your bed, you know who's really funny."
And we're not talking about polite chuckles here, Shmooper. We're talking about Mountain-Dew-Code-Red-coming-out-of-your-nose funny. As a director, Allen has a unique eye for it.
Second, Allen knows when to stand aside. "People have always asked me over the years about performances in my movies," Allen told reporters, "and they think I'm being facetious when I say this, but I'm not: I hire great people and I get out of their way. I try not to talk to them as much as possible."
Avoiding people? Sounds like an Alvy Singer-approved approach to drawing out talent, if you ask us.
Anxious Alter Egos
But the similarities between Allen and Alvy don't end there. Not by a long shot. At the time Allen filmed Annie Hall, he was a forty-something comedian. So is Alvy. Allen is Jewish and originally from Brooklyn. So is Alvy. Allen digs the Knicks and Ingmar Bergman movies. So does Alvy.
With Annie Hall, Allen made a dramatic account of one of his past relationships (allegedly with Annie Hall herself, Diane Keaton). At the end of Annie Hall, that's exactly what Alvy does with his play; he dramatizes his affair with Annie… although he gives it a significantly happier ending.
Alvy's "happily ever after" revision of his and Annie's relationship reinforces one of the movie's major themes: that we use art to improve real life. That idea? It's straight out of the Allen playbook. "Real life is generally much duller and inevitably sadder, most of the time," Allen explained at a 2012 press conference. "In film, you control everything that's going on, so you can indulge the most fantastic, romantic, escapist feelings and fantasies. You can do anything you want."
Allen and Alvy don't just share a love of Bergman and Brooklyn; they share an artistic ideology. Reality got you down? Change it!
Allen and Alvy also have similar ideas about luff—er, we mean love. "[Love] fades almost all the time," Allen said in a 2015 interview with NPR's Sam Frogoso. "Once in a while you get lucky and get into a relationship that lasts a very long time. Even a lifetime. But it does fade. Relationships are the most difficult thing people deal with."
This line of thought is the main thread throughout Annie Hall. Relationships are absurd, but, in the end, we need them and all of the insanity they put us through.
All of the nervous, distrustful, and anxiety-filled thoughts that Alvy unleashes through ninety-three minutes of Annie Hall are hallmarks of Allen's directing style. Not every movie he's made over the past five decades is filled to the gills with neurosis, but most of them are. It's his calling card. If Annie Hall is a crash course in the directing style of Woody Allen, then Allen's alter ego, Alvy, is your professor emeritus.
Forever a N00B
Given the parallels between Alvy the character and Allen the director, it should come as little surprise that, in spite of the thirty-one awards his film racked up—everything from Oscars to a Directors Guild of America award—Allen isn't impressed with his directing effort in Annie Hall. He's just as self-effacing as Alvy.
"There's such a difference between the idealized film in your mind and what you wind up with that you're never happy and you're never satisfied," Allen said of directing. "For me, I've never liked any of my films. I'm always thankful that the audience has liked some of them, in spite of my disappointment." And audiences have definitely dug Allen's films. He's been nominated for six Academy Awards for Best Director and won once for—that's right, you guessed it—Annie Hall.
Simply put, Allen is an auteur. Annie Hall was his breakout film, as well as one of only a thimble-full of comedies to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. He's one of the most influential American filmmakers of the last fifty years, even if he still thinks of himself as a n00b.
"Well, marginally, I've gotten better," Allen claimed in 2009. "Every time you make a movie… every time you make it is a new and different experience. You learn very little from the past. I'm better than when I made [1969's] Take the Money and Run, but not much better than when I made Annie Hall. I've learned very little after that."